Why can’t you leave your marriage?
Lots of people end up stuck in unhappy relationships, unable to break free from their partners. Maybe this hits home for you; you’ve probably talked it over with friends or found comfort in someone else. This might have been on your mind for a long while. Thing is, taking that step, even when you know it’s the right thing, can be crazy tough. People often keep themselves hanging in limbo for days, months, or even years, wrestling with this decision that just won’t let up.
So what’s stopping you leaving your marriage?
There are four phases of a breakup or divorce. This is known as STAR divorce for short, the four phases are;
- S = Shock
- T = Transform
- A = Awaken
- R = Regrowth
Right now you are in the first phase – Divorce Shock!
Realising that your relationship may be close to the end is a shock for anyone. Even if you are likely to be the person initiating it. Divorce is a shock that can take sometime to process and navigate through.
There are three phases of Divorce Shock;
- Feelings: Process feelings
- Communication: Talk openly
- Action: Take steps forward
Choosing to bring your marriage to an end stands as one of the most challenging and significant choices you’ll ever confront. That’s why it’s crucial to have an unwavering conviction that your marriage has genuinely reached its conclusion before you embark on the subsequent phases.
Read the points in this article to better understand your own feelings, help you evaluate your options, reach a decision, and take the necessary action once you have decided.
You’ll likely lean on a select group of friends for support during this time, and if possible, consider seeking guidance from a professional like a relationship coach.
Before you arrive at an absolute final decision, it’s important to have an open conversation with your partner. Once the “D” word (divorce) is out there, retracting it becomes incredibly difficult, if not impossible. So, use this term cautiously, or even consider avoiding it altogether. If your feelings about the relationship have reached such a point, it’s likely that your partner is also experiencing some level of discontent.
Engaging in a conversation is pivotal. This dialogue could uncover potential avenues to address the differences and challenges you’re facing, or it could solidify your belief that the relationship has run its course. Regardless, it’s a step forward toward a more positive outcome.
Even after you’ve carefully assessed your situation from various angles and arrived at a resolute decision about the course of action you should take, it remains challenging for many to execute that irreversible step.
The subsequent sections of this article aim to provide you with a deeper comprehension of your circumstances and assist you in taking the required measures if moving forward is indeed the appropriate choice for you.
Fear is holding you back
You are likely to have avoided taking the decision due to a range of fears:
- losing your children
- not coping
- having insufficient money
- losing friends/family/community
- being alone
- others judging you
- hurting someone you care about
- facing uncertainty
Some fear is useful, it makes you assess the situation and plan for any eventualities. However, the fear is less useful when you have made up your mind but you cannot move forward.
Fear of uncertainty can make us feel a loss of control. People often hope that they will find an answer which makes it clear what to do. Many (many) will sabotage their existing relationship, including affairs and other actions to force the situation rather than making a conscious ‘choice’ and owning that decision. To help reach a conclusion many will run dilemmas and vent their frustration to friends, search the internet for articles such as this one, or speak to a specialist such as a relationship coach to reach their conclusion.
At the end of the day they usually feel unsatisfied as there is no easy solution.
Another option, that arguably too few actually take, is to speak to their partner. Chances are they are not entirely happy either, talking together find uncover options for reconciliation, or make it categorically clear that this relationship has reached it’s end.
Stuck in the catastrophe?
As the fear takes hold, we can become unrealistically catastrophic in our thinking. We might begin fantasising about being outcast, being totally miserable and eventually dying alone and penniless.
The problem with this is that:
- (a) this is unlikely; and
- (b) you can fix things with time and patience.
So back to the worse case scenario of dying lonely and penniless… the truth is that you might struggle with money, and some people might be angry with you. But others will remain your friend, and you will find ways to adapt to your financial situation. Even if you do make a mistake, this does not mean you cannot rectify it with time.
The reason you are considering leaving this marriage is because you are unhappy. Improvements in life satisfactions will require change. You will need to decide whether it will be easier to do it away from the marriage. If someone is restricting your freedom, or undermining your efforts, improvements might only be possible by ending the relationship and leaving the partner.
So reassure yourself by considering what is the worst that might realistically happen? Is there a way you could you deal with this?
Regret – Want to avoid responsibility for the years wasted
Are you someone who thinks that leaving now, will mean that the last 10 (or however many) years of the relationship will be wasted. On this basis, for every day you stay, leaving will get harder. And for every additional day, that’s another day ‘wasted’.
One way to look at this more helpfully, is that staying in a situation in which you have invested a lot in is normal. It has been shown that loss aversion is one of the most consistent human traits. Loss aversion makes people stay in jobs they don’t like, or stick to bad investments (or put even more money into them!), in the hope that they will not lose, and that something will work itself out. It is extremely hard to lose and have to admit you have made a mistake.
So consider whether it time to cut your losses?
Guilt – Have I tried hard enough?
Many people feel guilty about leaving and wonder if they have tried hard enough. This leads to getting caught in an endless loop of, trying “just one more time or just one more year”.
These 3 considerations might help you get out of the trap:
- Am I unhappy due to my marriage or due to something else?
For example, if you are also unhappy due to not liking your job, are you blaming your marriage unfairly? If you were to make other changes, would you still want to leave? If the answer is “yes”, then you have your answer.
- Am I being prevented from making changes due to your partner?
If you would like to improve communication, live your life differently, change jobs, but your partner will not support this, then you will remain unhappy for the foreseeable future. If you have not already tried, then tell your partner what you need (e.g. go out more, see more friends and have more sex). Make sure that you check what your partner wants too. If they are saying yes just to keep you, then they will become unhappy with change. After you have made the changes to your life, see whether this leads to an improvement in your marriage. You both need to be true to yourselves for this to work.
- Have I ever really enjoyed being with my partner?
Can you not stand them, possibly you struggle to remember times you ever really enjoyed? It is surprisingly common that we marry people we do not actually enjoy being with, as we feel they would make a good father/mother, they are “nice”, your family like them etc. If this is the case, you do not need to ponder too long.
Putting off the pain
It is the most normal thing in the world to want to avoid feeling and causing pain. This means that you will find all kinds of reasons to delay your decision to leave, “I will wait until they finish school, until they have this interview, until their mother is better”… Waiting for the perfect time is a dangerous game as this very rarely happens.
If you do leave, you will face a difficult time, and it will be messy for you and several people around you. Even if we can reduce and manage the pain and chaos, there is absolutely no way to eliminate it totally. However, if you can accept it while moving towards your own life values, then the distress will eventually make space for more and more happiness.
The 2 choices you are actually facing
Once you have thought about what fears are holding you back (and I am sure this has been on repeat in your mind), you only really have 2 choices:
Stay in a relationship which is not making you happy and is unfulfilling. You may know deep inside, that one day you will regret not having been true to yourself. On the upside, you avoid the uncertainty, the upheaval and the pain is less intense over the short term.
Leave the relationship and immediately face an enormous amount of turmoil, uncertainty and pain. BUT you have the opportunity, for increased happiness.
BOTH options are stressful and both involve pain.
You are responsible for living your life and making your choices
People often convince themselves that they are trapped by their obligations and commitments; they cannot afford to divorce, that they cannot expect their partner to change, or that their family will not be able to cope. If you are in this bind, then others have become responsible for your life and you will feel trapped. I have heard it described as making circumstances the jail, and other people the jailor.
The truth is that you are responsible for feeling trapped as you have not acknowledged the choice you have made. It is OK for you to choose to stay in an unhappy marriage to protect someone or something. I knew someone who decided to stay in a loveless marriage because they feared a divorce would mean that they would lose their garden.
If you visualise getting to the end of your life, and still feeling that staying was the best thing you could have done, then do stay. What we are recommending is that you acknowledge your intentions and choices, so that you feel more in control.
Who and what are you living your life for? will you regret this?
Be true to yourself
The reason that you hear this line so often is because it contains a truth which is so fundamental to happiness. If you are feeling trapped, or that life is long and difficult, these are major signs that you are living a life which is not satisfactory to you in some fundamental way.
If you could live your life as you would like to, what would you be doing? How would you be? Nothing is more soul crushing than living a life according to someone else’s values.
How to leave – Conclusion
Deciding to end a marriage is a big deal for anyone. It’s important to think through your options before making any irreversible moves. But even though it might feel easier to just do nothing and avoid the problem, your life and future are too valuable to be stuck in a bad relationship.
If this relationship has truly run its course, it’s time to take action and welcome the positive opportunities that are waiting for you in the future. You have one life, how will you choose to live it?